‘Carrowholly Cottage’, Carrowholly, Westport, Co Mayo and formerly Islandmore Island, Clew Bay
Dick Gill passed away on September 5, 2020 in his 91st year at Mayo University Hospital. Dick was born on December 28, 1929 to Josie and Nora Gill (née Quinn) in Islandmore Island, Clew Bay. He was the third of five children. Dick was predeceased by his sister Una and brother Tony. The following is the Eulogy, which Fr Tod Nolan gave at Dick’s funeral Mass:
These are unusual, unprecedented and for many, frightening times. These days lived in the shadow of Covid-19 have compelled all of us to look at our lives and to re-evaluate what is important and what is not. Social distancing, self-isolation, cocooning has brought with them fear and anxiety, but they have also made us reflect on how dependent we are on each other and how powerless it seems we are on our own. In this new world in which we find ourselves, strange as it might seem it is old values which have come to the fore – family, friends, faith.
Dick Gill didn’t need Covid-19 to remind him of those values. Those values were in his blood. His early life on Islandmore, had shaped him like the sea had shaped the island itself, and those values – family, friends, faith were etched into his very nature guiding him through the ups and downs of life like lighthouse beacons guiding ships through the channels of the bay.
Dick spent the first twenty-four years of his life on Islandmore - his family only moving to Carrowholly on the mainland when life on the island finally became unsustainable. It’s almost impossible for us now even to imagine what life on a small island on the rugged and wild west coast of Ireland would have been like some 70 years ago. It was no doubt tough, but Dick remembered it with great fondness and kept land on the island to maintain his and his family’s connection with the place which held huge significance to him. The sea was in his bones and he was proud to have been the last Newport bay pilot. He loved to speak of his time on Islandmore and was never happier than when he and Richard would go back and forth to visit the land and their stock. He was so proud that he managed to gift Richard with a love for the sea and of the island.
Anyone who knew Dick knew him as a gentleman, through and through. He was gentle in every sense of that word; quiet, placid, patient, caring, generous and warm. He was a reserved man who loved company, a proud man without any pretence. He was a shrewd and wise seaman and farmer but perhaps his most astute moment – and I admit to some bias – was when he chose my auntie, Mary Nolan, as his wife and lifelong best friend. They were great together – a perfect match. If the Nolan’s were inclined to worry and fooster and panic, the Gills were happy to go with the tide and accept what life brought. I remember when I’d ring home years ago and in the course of the conversation ask my dad how aunty Mary and uncle Dick were, his answer was ‘Dick is a saint’. Mary and Dick got on so well together – whether that be playing ‘25’ below in the school, watching politics on TV or simply sitting quietly in each other’s company, they were seldom apart, and I know that she will miss him terribly now.
The last number of years were hard for Dick as his health began to deteriorate. The wonderful care and love he received from Mary Elizabeth and Richard, and I know they would want me to thank especially Richard’s partner Claire, was nothing more than Dick deserved and for which he was truly grateful but it was the arrival of Clara which, in his later years, brought him greatest joy. He truly doted on her and her on him. What lovely memories.
Our first reading today reminds us that God is not so much to be found in the mighty wind but rather that God is to be found in the gentle breeze. Dick’s life cast the gentle breeze of God’s presence on those of us who were fortunate enough to have known him. In his own gentle and unique way, he brought God to us and us to God. He lived his faith and he died in that faith. That faith assured him that dead is not an end but rather the beginning of new life with God. Blessed are the gentle for they will inherit the earth. We have been blessed to have called him husband, dad, grandad, brother, uncle, neighbour, and friend.
Dick was one of the last inhabitants to leave Islandmore and he was the last surviving island born Islandmore man. A number of years ago as part of her studies in college Mary Elizabeth did an inadept interview with her dad about life on the island. It’s a lovely read and a wonderful account of a now almost forgotten Island life. I’d like to finish with the final paragraph of that interview. Dick’s own words: ‘I live now away from the Island that gave me birth and happiness. Each night before I go to sleep, I visualise Islandmore and the Inishgort lighthouse winking every 13 seconds and far beyond the rolling seas. The fire is now gone out in my old house. How quiet and peaceful it was.’
The fire in the old house is gone out – a light has gone on in heaven. But we keep the fire of his presence burning in our hearts and we pray that those values of faith, family and friendship which shaped Dick’s life may live on in us.
‘Ní bheidh a leihéid ann arís’ is an often-used epitaph. They were in fact the last lines of an tOileánach, the autobiography of another great island man Tomós Ó Criotháin on his life on The Blasket Islands. Dick Gill was a quiet and decent man; our world has been a better place for his time with us and we proudly say ‘Ní bheidh a leihéid ann arís’
Dick will be remembered as a quiet gentleman who will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
Dick will be very sadly missed by his loving wife and best friend Mary, son Richard, daughter Mary Elizabeth, granddaughter Clara, Richard’s partner Claire, Mary’s partner Sarah, sisters Anna and Joan, nieces and nephews, relatives, friends and neighbours.
May his gentle soul rest in peace.